Rather than asking whether your executives should or should not use social media, the more relevant question is this: Can your executives capture the advantages of digital communications without opening themselves up to the unique risks that surface when they are highly visible on social platforms? The answer, usually, is yes. The happy medium is the corporate blog.
A primer on corporate blogs
Blogs are self-publishing mediums that allow anyone to publish their messages without needing the assistance of traditional media, via a platform like WordPress or Blogger. Simple to set up and simple to maintain, these types of blogs are more one-way.
Social networks like Twitter and Facebook also provide a platform for anyone to publish their messages, the difference between say Twitter and a personal or company blog is in form. Blogs are more one-way, while social networks are designed to engender multi-way dialogue.
No one who leaves a comment on a corporate blog expects that corporation, or its executives, to respond to it. A user who Tweets at an executive with a question he or she deems relevant, however, can reasonably expect a response. Reading blogs is more like reading the newspaper or industry publication, while communicating via social networks is more like being at happy hour.
There is also less immediacy with corporate blogs, which allows content to be more fully developed and vetted before publishing it. In fact, our research of sophisticated buyers of high-value professional services found that these audiences prefer high-quality, well thought out content on a less frequent basis.
Social networks tend to enable disasters to occur by way of excited utterances – spur-of-the-moment comments that are easy to take out of context – or posts out of alignment with brand character or worse, detrimental to business objectives. Rather, publishing content via a blog provides the reader with a higher quality of thinking.
We recommend that corporate communicators think strategically before putting social networking in front of their executives. Starting with self-publishing through an executive blog, as opposed to pure-play social networks, is a better approach. The potential upsides are similar, but blogging does not have the same risks as using other forms of social media.